Public Servitude

Before the September Board meeting, I ran into our school’s contact in the Office of LSC Relations in the lobby of the Marquette Building.

We spoke briefly about my ongoing request that the BoE include a teacher preference percentage into its admissions policies. Although he is a 20+-year veteran of CPS and his children went through the system under the previous policies, our contact told me that he doesn’t support my request for several reasons, but chiefly because it is a requirement of public service that you don’t give yourself perks. My changes, as proposed, would be “too much of keeping the best for ourselves.”

We challenged each others’ thinking for bit, exchanging ideas and beliefs about the issue, and then he went for coffee and I went up to attend the September BoE meeting.

But the more I think about it, the more this particular stance ticks me off. As I said to our contact. if it were true that public servants should consider personal sacrifice as part of their job description, why is it only the rank and file teachers who must adhere to this mindset?

Why does Tim Cawley get a residency pass to live in Winnetka? Why is there no outcry that the mayor sends his kids to Lab? On the current Board of Education, appointed by mayor Rahm Emmanuel in 2012 and 2013, there are are only a handful of members (Andrea Zopp, David Vitale, Mahalia Hines) who sent their children to CPS–and even then, only Hines’s son attended a non-selective school (Luther High School South).

On CPSObsessed this week, there is raging debate about how much access individual schools should give to individual parents. Inevitably, the discussion in comments turned to teacher perks. I don’t get this us versus them mindset that seems to prevail whenever parents and teachers begin to bemoan the problems of a deeply imperfect and under-resourced system.

I truly do not understand why we as a society cannot view the school environment as a school environment (even if it is a work environment for teachers/administration) and not as a corporate environment. As Dorothy Shipps chronicled in her book, School Reform, Corporate Style, business has been trying to modernize schooling to corporate ideals for over 90 years. Now the “free market capitalist” mindset toward public education has so infiltrated our collective psyche that the public is in on the cry for modernization as well. Even worse, we think it’s OK to compare every public service and agency to a private one.

As I wrote last year, I believe in the teachers union. Even more important, I believe in the teachers themselves, and in the strength and integrity of their profession. I have been extremely fortunate that I have met only a handful of less-than-great teachers, and my children have been taught pretty much exclusively by good to great teachers.

The mindset that teachers have it so easy–summers off, the laundry list of holidays, make more than the rest of us, automatic pay increases, work partial days, have funded pensions, to name a few things I’ve read about teachers lately–is farcical. It implies that there is only so much pain and suffering and general pain-in-the-assishness to go around, and that office workers have a lock on it.

The teachers versus corporate workers comparison is reminiscent of conversations in the Great White Moose of an afternoon: does The Boy’s loss of his favorite jacket trump The Girl having to be partners again with the boy next to her in line? Or does The Tot Who’s Not trump them both because he’s mortified that I told his uncle a story about The Tot and gummy bears?

The fact is: if you’re not a teacher, you have no idea how much the work day or work week can stink. (And if you’ve never worked a crummy corporate job, you’ve likely no idea how much the work day or work week can stink.)  That corporate America no longer gives the so-called white-collar knowledge worker a sense of purpose and control over his/her work environment is a great point of sociological discussion, but it has no bearing on what is happening systemically in public education or other public agencies.

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